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Toronto Criminal Lawyer Mark Zinck

Toronto Police Investigations

The term police investigation encompasses everything from large scale investigations involving numerous officers and agencies to an investigation that consists of nothing more than taking a statement from a witness.

Should you talk to the police?

Probably the most frequently given criminal defence advice is to not speak to the police. While this is common knowledge, most people choose to speak to the police anyway many times without a lawyer being present. Statements made to the police, many times by the accused, are the most common form of evidence that results in charges.

Why is it important not to speak to the police?

The number one goal of a police interrogation is to get an admission of guilt out of the accused. Admissions of guilt may be needed to press charges, and make cases extremely difficult to defend.

Sometimes suspects will admit to crimes because they feel their conviction is a foregone conclusion and that by admitting guilt they will get a break in sentencing. In some cases, it is true that admitting responsibility early on will benefit the accused for sentencing, however it depends on the specifics or the case and many other variables thus it is important to speak to a lawyer before making this decision.

The second goal of a police interrogation is to get the accused to make statements that he may later contradict in court or that may later be contradicted by evidence that is gathered. These are admissible in court as an exception to hearsay known as “admissions or statements against interest”. Police will always want to interview and obtain a statement from a suspect as soon as possible before the suspect has the benefit of knowing the evidence they collect against him.

If the suspect does not speak to the police, if he is charged he will be provided with disclosure of all the evidence gathered against him. The suspect now has the ability to craft a defence knowing all the evidence the police have, which is a much better position to be in than trying to explain a defence in an interrogation room not knowing what the evidence is against him.

Another advantage of not talking to the police is that it weakens their case to not have an admission or statements that don’t make sense on file. Even if you decide to plead guilty, the crown prosecutor will be much more inclined to give you a favourable bargain if his case is relatively weak.

Why suspects talk to the police

It is a well known fact that lawyers almost always advise their clients not to speak to the police. Why then do so many suspects give statements to the police?

One of the reasons is that some people believe they can convince the police not to charge them with a crime. The problem is that in most cases the police are already pressing charges no matter what the suspect tells them. They are simply looking to solidify their case with an admission of guilt, or to force the accused to tell a story that can later be contradicted in court.

Statements against interest and admissions of guilt are admissible in court despite being hearsay. If the accused talks to the police, the accused's defence lawyer will be limited in attempting to present an alternative explanation at trial because the original statement is admissible in court. It is impossible to know what the best defence will be without seeing all the evidence against you.

For this reason, it is never in your best interest to speak to the police (no matter how tempting it may be).

Giving a Statement to the Police

It is important to note that just because you don't attend the police station and give a formal written statement, anything you say can still be used to try to convict you in court.

For example, perhaps police are called to a domestic dispute and you make comments to them about what happened at the scene. The officer may record these statements in his notes, or in his synopsis of what happened, and these remarks can later be used against you.

It can be difficult in these situations because you want to avoid being charged to begin with. One must keep in mind however, that regardless of what you say, you will likely be charged if someone alleges that you made a threat or assaulted someone (particularly in domestic disputes).

Typical police evidence

The vast majority of criminal cases in Canada are prosecuted based on witness statement alone. Rarely is DNA or other forensic evidence produced in court. It is a myth that most criminal investigations use a lot of "high tech" techniques. In reality, most cases are made on a little more than witness testimony.

For this reason, one of the primary goals of police investigations is to get the suspect to admit to or talk about the incident. Admissions and inconsistent statements are a leading source of criminal convictions in Canada, which is why it is so important that you not speak to the police under any circumstances.

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